Can Copenhagen Save Yosemite?

Photo courtesy the US Bureau of Land Management


Climate change is forecast to burn Yosemite National Park violently in coming years. A new study in the International Journal of Wildland Fire finds the dwindling spring snowpack in the Sierra Nevada will exponentially increase the number of lightning-ignited fires.

The increase has two causes:

  • Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere appear to be leading to more lightning strikes.
  • Decreasing winter snowpack—conservative climate models predict a 17-percent fall by 2050—will allow more lightning strikes  to ignite fires in the park.

The BBC quotes lead author James Lutz of the U of Washington Seattle:

“People already expect more ignitions from hotter summers. But this research suggests that declines in snowpack will have an additional effect.”

In other words, a warming climate is setting up a nasty positive feedback loop, making a bad situation worse.

Come on, world leaders, lead already.

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  • Julia Whitty is the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones. Her latest book is Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. For more of her stories, click here.